Over the past couple of years, if you have been paying close attention to global politics, you will have notice a small but growing trend: women rising up to be political representatives for themselves and creating more opportunities for female issues (which play a large part in how general society operates) to be discussed at the highest level in government. While here in the US we are still waiting to even find out whether we will elect our first female President this year, it’s fair to say there is a lot to learn from the way women are mobilizing and politicizing around the world.
In early 2015, Orthodox Haredi women in Israel formed their own party called Bezchutan in order to have their specific needs represented in the Knesset. In Sweden, the Feminist Initiative party has gained plenty of traction as well as attention as it takes root across Europe, as it already has a seat in the European Union Parliament. Party Leader Gudrun Schyman campaigned during the 2015 federal elections, and even got celebrity support from singer Pharrell Williams.
The UK held a federal election in 2015 which saw the re-election of David Cameron’s Conservative Party, but there was a particular political party forming around the same time which should send a signal to the Tories and the rest of the political stalwarts who have dominated for so long in the UK that change is happening.
In March 2015, two women formed the basis of the Women’s Equality Party. Author and broadcaster Sandi Toksvig, and journalist Catherine Mayer were part of a discussion about women’s participation in politics at the Women of the World festival in London. Catherine proposed the idea of starting a party dedicated to women’s equality issues, and Sandi was on board right away. The women got to work gathering a network of supporters. In April announced their 6 core objectives, and in July they opened up their initial membership round in order to raise funds, and found their party leader in journalist and blogger Sophie Walker.
In October the party held it’s official policy launch in front of a packed Conway Hall in London, reiterating their 6 core objectives for which they will be campaigning. To date, the party has 45,000 members and supporters across 65 national branches. The first major objective for the WEP is to participate in the Spring elections this year in the UK.
Fed up with the lack of action from other parties when it comes to representing women, the WEP is encouraging UK political parties to “steal” their policies, as they are focused more on changing the world for women, than just playing political games.
In an op-ed for The Telegraph, leader Sophie Walker revealed what it has meant to her to lead Britain’s first feminist party.
“This year I helped to build a new political party for those who are fed up of living with inequality; who are fed up of being told that their needs will be considered just as soon as x and y and z have been sorted out; who are fed up of being squeezed at birth into tiny, tiny little pigeonholes that limit their options according to their gender because people in government and business haven’t got the imagination to do things any other way,” she writes.
She says how much she has surprised herself by what the party has achieved so far in terms of gaining supporters, momentum and funds before even officially campaigning for its first election.
“The political system in Britain is based on money, tradition and who you know – and it’s all held together by lots and lots of red tape. But…if someone had told me we could build a driving force for real change that could gather thousands of people – most of whom vote and most of whom have never before belonged to a political party – I would probably not have believed that,” she said.
Sophie is careful to mention that the party isn’t just made up of women, but that it invites every gender and ethnicity to take part in their important cause.
“I work with white women, black women, straight women, gay women, disabled women and working class women. I work with an equally diverse group of men, who want to be part of this new wave of feminism because they too are fed up with not being heard, with having to choose from limited options, and who know that men who live in a gender equal society are twice as likely to have a high quality of life,” she said.
The Women’s Equality Party has come about at a time, specifically in the UK, where feminism and gender equality are at the forefront of many discussions in the media and pop culture. Emma Watson stumping for feminism in her He For She campaign launch speech in 2014, student activists forming feminist clubs in high schools and college campuses, activists raising awareness about female genital mutilation, honor killings and child marriage in the UK, Everyday Sexism organization bringing conversations about domestic and sexual violence to the mainstream in more though-provoking ways, and the equal representation of women in seats of power across a range of industries.
Sophie says those who have joined the WEP come from a range of political backgrounds who tell them they have finally found something worth voting for, and who want to put women’s equality at the top of the agenda.
“I get up every morning because I want to change things. The challenges are huge. We are fighting for equality in a system that is structurally unequal. But we refuse to accept what we are told about it being too hard to dismantle and rebuild those structures. It’s time to get it done,” she concludes.
Here are the 6 main objectives of the WEP:
Women make up just 29% of MPs and 24% of Peers. To correct this, women should women should make up at least 66% of new MPs for the next two elections.Equal pay
Companies with more than 250 will have to print an annual report outlining both men and women’s pay, hours and employment status.Equal parenting and care giving
Fathers as well as mothers should be entitled to 6 weeks of paid leave at 90% of their salary.
Sophie Walker said, ‘We want women to realize their potential, and we want to do it by providing a system of childcare that doesn’t cost the earth – and doesn’t have to be waited for.’
Equality in education
Teach mutual respect in sexual relationships and tackle the underlying causes of violence against women and girls. All schools should conduct a gender audit of their curriculum to ensure they are promoting role models like Marie Curie and Grace Hopper (aka Amazing Grace, American computer scientist extraordinaire) to challenge gender stereotypes.
Equality in the media
The picture of women presented in the media has to change so that women can be heard – dads can care, female politicians shouldn’t be asked about their handbags and girls don’t need to be stick thin.
Ending violence against women and girls
Tackle the low prosecution rates for sexual violence, and ensure that victims of domestic violence receive legal aid and specialist support, by scrapping the Married Couples’ Tax Allowance. It’s thought this could save £800m by 2018-19.
They aim to be a party that delivers on promised with decisive action, if elected. No lip service will be paid by the WEP. This is a welcome change in the landscape of British politics in general as many thought acting Labour Party leader Harriet Harman would be chosen for the top spot after the national elections in 2015, but instead Jeremy Corbyn was picked. Many thought he would bring with him progressive change and appoint a number of women to the top 4 roles within the party, but so far the best he has done is appoint 17 women, vs 14 men, a move which some describe as a “pat on the head for women”.
There has been some criticism of the party’s objectives by some who say the focus on equality must include tackling poverty which disproportionately affects women. But outlining policies for workplace discrimination, gender violence, childcare and gender pay is a least a far bigger headstart than what the other more established parties can claim. And we certainly hope to see an increased amount of change being made to the status of women caught in cycles of poverty in the UK.
With more and more women becoming aware of the importance of taking up political roles in order to create change in their communities, we can see how the Women’s Equality Party will encourage women around the world to raise their voices and make their cause known.
Watch the full WEP policy launch event in the video below and hear Sophie Walker’s powerful speech on why the Women’s Equality will be a collaborative force for change in UK society: